I’m at the age where my social calendar is made up of funerals. However, the more I see, the less I want the standard dour church fare for my own.
I’ve arrived at the age where the only time I see someone is when we say goodbye forever. Don’t pity me though, I don’t need it. It’s a natural part of life. In fact, I’ve left thorough, yet clear, instructions for my grandson regarding my own, and I’ve told him numerous times that if he’s not to meet my conditions, I’ll haunt him forever.
My final wishes are important, not because I’m going to get my family to plant a tree, or save the Indonesian orangutan, but primarily because I don’t want my farewell to be boring, as my blood glance at their watches and wonder Jesus, nan. Wind it up. The last memory tends to be the strongest, the one that sticks in the mind, and I don’t want that to be muffled coughs, creaky floorboards and Nearer my lord to thee. Mine will be soundtracked by the streets of New Orleans, revelry and perhaps the heroic (yet sensible) intake of spirits. It will be a quick affair, a quick tootling of the horns, and a quick spin to the cemetery. It’s a just a shame that I’ll miss it, but I’ll be there in spirit. Boom boom.
It’s important because I’ve found the standard format is a rather stale affair, and the more I attend, the more I become convinced. Pardon me for being frank, but a function with numerous speeches (which admittedly end up sounding exactly the same, as one unrelated anecdote seems very much like another) and numerous in memoriam video packages featuring refreshments and the forced smiles and masticated sandwiches afterwards tends to fill an entire day. To use a term in the current parlance, allow me to be real here: time is precious to those above the national average lifespan. Time is luck, and we don’t need twelve hours of vicious mortal introspection. Because that’s what a funeral is. We’re not thinking about Joe Bloggs who we went to school with in 1953, we’re thinking about ourselves.
We can’t help it.
I’m not speaking ill of any dead in particular, don’t @ me, but subjecting the living to a slow death is rather ironic.
I’m not speaking ill of any dead in particular, don’t @ me, but subjecting the living to a slow death is rather ironic. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll always pay my respects, and I feel the absence of those now gone, but there’s only so many ways you can say I’m sorry for your loss to relatives you’ve never met, those who’ve never met you. How did you know x? is the question oft-asked, and cue the morbidity of the forced small talk, like it means something, like this bond that you’ve formed will somehow continue to hold when the only connection holding both parties has already been cut.
The other problem, and you’ll see this for yourself one day, but as your social circle reduces, it births a particularly odd social subset – the remainders. They’re an odd bunch, eyes sunken with the knowledge that one of them is next, so they feel compelled to share the terminal state of others in the group (whoever is absent) to divert attention from their own issues. It’s a sort of denial, I suppose.
Oh, I’m not bad, you should see Helen.
Their only topic of conversation is death, until it becomes them and only then are we finally free to talk about their lives. It’s odd. And it’s rather infectious. You do tend to worry, but the amount of space you can allow yourself from the toxicity of death circles, the better. Look out for that.
I’m bringing all this up, as I was inspired by the recent passing of a long-time colleague I called ‘wank’. He was a short man of short tolerance for waffling, and certainly held a great resistance to the attention focused on him. He was both a group person and the most self-effacing man I’ve ever met. He’d do anything for you, as long as you never brought it up again. He wasn’t Mother Theresa generous, he just hated attention more than anything. He was borderline allergic to the sound of applause aimed at him. When we both worked back at the paper, he jokingly begged me to just throw him in a hole when his time came. His funeral was a complete faff. It even had, for want of a better term, an interval. I understand that he touched many, but I’m certain wank didn’t want this morbid masturbation.
My advice to you, is this: Be clear about what you want for your own funeral. After all, you only get one.
Otherwise, you’ll be stuck there in the coffin while your fifth cousin elevates the mundane, as eyes are collectively rolled in the aisles. A forced, tortured go-nowhere story is not a fitting send-off.
Unless you were exactly that person.
See you on the other side.